New York’s state ethics watchdog issued a new order Friday to try to force disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to return the $5 million in book profits he allegedly made on the back of taxpayers amid the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics resolution directly demands that Cuomo return the profits to his publisher Penguin/ Random House.
An original order JCOPE approved back in December tasked Attorney General Letitia James’ office with enforcement, including how to collect the money from Cuomo.
But the AG’s office refused to take action, saying the order was defective and concluding it would be illegal to do so without JCOPE first conducting a full investigation into how Cuomo allegedly misused state resources to work on his pandemic-era memoir.
To get around the legal dispute with James, the resolution approved Friday, introduced by Commissioner David McNamara, a Senate Republican appointee, would have JCOPE hire a special counsel to enforce the order.
But state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli would have to approve the use of additional state taxpayer funds to cover the legal costs for JCOPE to take on a defiant Cuomo, who is refusing to return the book profits. He has also already put some of the proceeds into an irrevocable trust for his three daughters.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has been leading the investigation into the allegations against Cuomo. Seth Wenig/AP
The attorney general typically represents state agencies in court.
James —whose office’s investigative report forced the three-term Democratic governor’s resignation after substantiating a slew of accusations of mistreatment and harassment leveled against him by former staffers — has her own open probe on whether Cuomo misused taxpayer resources to publish the book.
The much-criticized JCOPE originally approved Cuomo’s request to publish the book –“American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” — during the height of the outbreak, based on assurances that he wouldn’t use government workers or other state resources to prepare it.
Former Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in 2021. Mary Altaffer/AP
The commissioners later claimed Cuomo violated the ethics rules by using state workers to help on the book and both revoked their approval and sought to “disgorge” his profits.
Cuomo claimed the employees volunteered to help on their own time and that he did not misuse public resources, which is illegal under the public officers law.
A Cuomo rep mocked the latest JCOPE edict.
“Another day, another display of incompetence by J-Joke’s kangaroo court. We’ll see them in real court,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.